Beaned!

Two brave men take an afternoon stroll down Calle Ocho -- with a coffee break at every single cafe cubano joint along the way

The adrenaline rush of our brush with death (or was it the caffeine?) carried us through our next five stops. We made two important discoveries: the McDonald's doesn't sell Cuban coffee; Dunkin' Donuts used to until their machine broke.

The owner of La Guarina drained a cup with us and offered to buy another round. We politely declined, but noted that he was the only cafeteria or bodega owner to sample his own coffee. Less encouraging was the observation that our saliva was now dark brown. "Medically speaking," Dr. Diaz opined, "brown spit is probably not a good sign."

The light at Seventeenth Avenue was red but we weren't about to wait for it. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! We jaywalked over to the Santa Barbara Cafeteria, distinguished by an elaborate mural of its patron saint painted on the east wall of the exterior. As we sidled up to the counter, we overheard customers inside placing bets on whether we spoke English or Spanish. We wondered aloud if Santa Barbara herself brewed the coffee, as it was easily the best we had tasted, sweet and smooth.

But Stan was turning belligerent. "I'm becoming more and more irritated with you two," he warned us, entirely without provocation. Dr. Diaz insisted on testing us before going any further. Stan's pulse had ticked back up to 75, but his blood pressure was a steady 110/70. My pulse was 60 and my blood pressure had fallen slightly to 100/70. Cafe cubano -- miracle cure for hypertension!

Stan was anxious to get moving again. The cigar had left a nasty aftertaste, and he left us cooling our heels while he purchased a bottle of Listerine and a pack of Rolaids. Dr. Diaz and I quietly conferred and decided it was probably best if Stan took a little coffee break (a break from coffee, that is). Freed from the responsibility of actually having to consume the stuff, Stan charged up the street, leaving us in his wake. When we stopped for me to sample a given cafeteria's wares, Stan would take off before I had a chance to pay my tab. Oddly enough, I didn't feel the least bit hyper or energized. I wondered whether Stan's behavior was psychosomatic.

I scarfed five cafes solo before Stan rejoined the binge. The rest of our journey was a blur of Igloo coolers, Bustelo beans, and little plastic cups. Could you judge the quality of the product by the lack of coffee stains on the sidewalk? Was there some mystical connection between cafe cubano and Colada Bang, a syrupy libation with a hint of pi*a colada flavoring, which is omnipresent on Calle Ocho? Would the flag vendor show up, like the rednecks at the end of Easy Rider, to teach us a lesson? Each of these questions seemed incredibly urgent for a moment, then was forgotten utterly.

Casa Roman had a help wanted sign accompanied by a magic marker profile of a ponytailed adolescent, presumably to give job seekers a clue as to how to bob their hair before applying. We passed a peluqueria offering toupees from $29.95. The worst coffee we tasted was brewed by a newfangled digital machine. Stan developed a rash on the back of his left leg, which Dr. Diaz likened to an alcoholic's delirium tremens. I felt lightheaded. Stan's speech had been picking up speed for a while; now mine was beginning to rival it.

Ayestaran, at 27th Avenue, killed us. They served thick and bitter cafe in huge glasses. We should have known better A forget the cooler; Ayestaran has its own water fountain next to the walk-up window. After 26 cafe cubanos in a bit more than four hours, I had reached my saturation point. Stan had hit the wall, too. We couldn't bring ourselves to force down another one until we got to La Carreta, where we were joined by uniformed members of the Miami Police Department's Street Narcotics Team. We savored the irony of the anti-drug squad getting jacked up on caffeine and sugar prior to hitting the street. Woe to the unsuspecting crack dealer who runs afoul of these guys after a couple hits of Calle Ocho brown.

While Dr. Diaz babbled something about our behaving erratically, our blood pressure and pulse rates remained low. I felt nauseated and a little dizzy, but certainly not intoxicated, or even unusually energetic. In fact, Stan and I agreed among ourselves (in spite of the doctor's strongly voiced opinion to the contrary) that the massive quantities of cafe cubano we'd ingested had had disappointingly little effect.

It was a thought I continued to ponder as I darted in and out of traffic on my way home. I couldn't recall Dixie Highway ever moving so slowly. I ducked into my house just long enough to change clothes and snap at my wife when she asked me why I was talking so fast.

It was then that I experienced a most unpleasant sensation, like that feeling you get when you've consumed too much alcohol but right before everything starts spinning. What a rip-off A I hadn't even realized I was buzzing until now, when I was beginning to crash. I wanted to throw up and get it over with. I decided to go jogging instead.

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